Welcome to the October “News From the Parks Episode” of the America’s National Parks Podcast, our new monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.

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October 2019 News

The biggest news out of the parks this month was a controversial plan by the Department of the Interior’s “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, a group of outdoor and recreation business operators. The plan boasts the parks as quote “excellent candidates for partner management under concessions and leases.” end quote. It recommends everything from turning campground operations to private companies, indexing campground prices to reflect inflation and the market, blackout periods for discounted senior-citizen and disabled camping fees during peak seasons, and even access for food trucks. The committee believes that the plan will help stabilize a park system that is in need or repair and maintenance, while providing relief for a strapped National Park Service. 

Detractors look at the plan as an attempt at a land-grab, pointing to historic problems with large concessionaires at places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, which have not resulted in revenue increases for the park service. It’s also not clear if concessionaires are interested in operating campgrounds in many parks. Often when current contracts go up for renewal, they have few if any bidders. 

But it’s important to note that the plan is just one advisory committee’s proposal, and is far from being adopted by the Department of the Interior.

Researchers have identified a new threat to Wild Lands across the country, human noise.

Anthropogenic noise, it’s called. Scientists from Colorado State University and the Park Service have spent the past decade studying noise on national parks. Researchers analyzed 46,789 hours of audio from 66 parks, and noise made by machines and people are heard in 37% of those recordings.

For many species, hearing the sounds of their habitat helps manage their safety. It’s often key to their survival and mating patterns. 

Recreational watercraft and trains create the loudest sounds, but the most common are automobiles, aircraft, and human voices.

It’s hoped that the research will lead to possible solutions, including quiet zones, managed construction noise, and limited access to sensitive areas.

Two mountain lions have been found dead in the Santa Monica Mountains—the cause of death for one of them, a healthy six-year-old male known as P-30, was rodent poison, according to National Park Service biologists.

He is the fifth mountain lion in the long-term study of the species to die from anticoagulant rodent poison, highlighting how an attempt to curb a rat problem can end up negatively impacting a wide range of wildlife.

Since 2002, National Park Service researchers have documented anticoagulant rodenticide compounds in 23 out of 24 local mountain lions that they have tested, including in a three-month-old kitten.

“Just about every mountain lion we’ve tested throughout our study has had exposure to these poisons, generally multiple compounds and often at high levels,” said Seth Riley, an ecologist and the wildlife branch chief for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “A wide range of predators can be exposed to these toxicants – everything from hawks and owls to bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and mountain lions. Even if they don’t die directly from the anticoagulant effects, our research has shown that bobcats, for example, are suffering significant immune system impacts.”

Mountain lions are likely exposed through secondary or tertiary poisoning, meaning that they consume an animal that ate the bait, such as a ground squirrel, or an animal that ate an animal that consumed the bait, such as a coyote.

How would you like to get paid to go fishing? The National Park Service has approved a plan to protect native fish and other aquatic species in the Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park by paying fishermen to catch invasive species.

The Expanded Non-Native Aquatic Species Management Plan includes what’s called an “incentivized harvest,” to reduce the growing population of brown trout in the Lees Ferry area below Glen Canyon Dam. Anglers will be rewarded for brown trout that are caught and removed from the river. The Park Service is working on the details of that program and will notify the public on how to participate once that process is funded and in place.

In other invasive species news, Little fire ants have met their match as Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park gets closer to meeting its goal of eradicating the pests from the popular Steam Vents area off Crater Rim Drive. 

Little fire ant, or “LFA” detections have decreased by at least 99% at Steam Vents since the park began treating the area in February. In 2018, LFA were abundant and readily observed on vegetation. During last month’s surveys, park pest control workers found LFA on just 0.1% of bait stations. 

Treatments will continue until the population is eliminated. “It’s too early to declare victory just yet,” said park ecologist David Benitez. “If we don’t continue our treatments, LFA populations will quickly rebound and could spread to new areas. These pests are a serious concern for human health and also for our natural resources.”

The U.S. is running short of people who can tell the forest from the trees. “Plant blindness,” or the inability of many people, even those in the scientific community, to identify plants is on the rise. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, organizations such as the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management can’t find enough scientists to deal with invasive plants, wildfire reforestation, and basic land-management issues.

Not only are there fewer university botany programs, but those who graduate from them may not be well versed in plant identification, focusing more on commercial applications of plants. 

There is now one botanist on the federal payroll for every 20 million acres of land, many having retired in recent years. 


Similarly, A dwindling number of federal officers are patrolling the nation’s forests, parks, wildlife refuges and other open spaces, A GAO report cited a 19% drop in the ranks of officers at the U.S. Forest Service between 2013 and 2018 The Bureau of Land Management saw a 9% drop and now has one officer in the field for every 1.2 million acres the agency oversees.


A reproduction bust of Orville Wright, which was recently stolen from Wright Brothers National Memorial, was found on the beach in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. A visitor called the County non-emergency line to report that the bust was “tucked” into the dunes.

National Park Service Rangers will continue investigating the theft of the bust and the damage to its granite mounting base. Homeowners and business owners in the area of Wright Brothers National Memorial have been encouraged to review security camera footage and report any suspicious activity from the night of October 12th through the afternoon of October 15th.

The National Park Service has begun recruitment for thousands of seasonal jobs. 2020 summer positions have been released on USAJobs website. The parks are recruiting entry-level summer seasonal park rangers all across the country—from the peaks of Mount Rainier National Park to the historic streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The National Park Service is also recruiting for a variety of specialized jobs, including archaeologists, biological technicians, and engineers.

“The uncommon men and women of the National Park Service share a common trait: a passion for caring for the nation’s special places and sharing their stories,” said Acting Regional Director Chip Jenkins. “I hope you’ll consider joining us this summer season to experience your America. You can make a difference by bringing your unique perspective to our work.”

Finally, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park celebrated its 20th birthday this month. The Western Colorado park was established as a National Monument on March 2, 1933, and was redesignated a National Park on October 21, 1999. Its name comes from the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day.

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